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April 2, 2010
Social Media: Easy as Driving a Car

My 20-year reunion is this year. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since I graduated from high school. It’s amazing how much times have changed in just two decades. Back then, when we had to do reports for school, we relied on encyclopedias. When we called our friends, sometimes the line was busy.

Think about advertising two decades ago. There was TV, radio, and print. Maybe if you really thought outside the box, you’d try something like airplane banner towing. It was a simpler time.

Even 10 years ago was a much different time. In 2000, I wasn’t in the advertising industry then, but I was working as the director of public relations for a commercial real estate firm. I relied on relationships with editors to get the news out, and press releases via Wire services were regular tactics and practices. I remember getting an opportunity with a reporter for BusinessWeek.com and telling one of the brokers I worked for that he would be doing an interview for the online version of the magazine. I also remember the look of disappointment and skepticism on his face about doing an interview with the online version. He was convinced no one would ever see it.

Fast-forward to 2010 when “online” (aforementioned broker, eat your heart out!) has become mainstream, and where words like “status” and “friends” have taken on new meanings, and “defriend” and “tweet” have become commonplace. It’s a world where the conventional methods of public relations have changed, and as for advertising, well, I support the notion that the conventional meaning of advertising may just may be obsolete. The rules of engagement have changed, and the majority of marketers are still trying to figure out the best way to connect with consumers.

It’s a new environment where lead time is now real time, and the moment you have one new trend or technology mastered, another comes blazing. If you’re like me, sometimes a visual and a life comparison can simplify a complicated task. As I sat here thinking about what I would write and how it could relate to emerging media and digital public relations, I couldn’t help but think about learning to drive.

Think about the barrage of social networks, the tactics you read about day in and day out, and the quest to figure out how you can do it all. Digesting the information and figuring it out can be a lot like learning to drive -- specifically, when you are trying to master the art of moving from the acceleration lane to the highway. In Atlanta, that means cars are whizzing past you, and you’re just trying to get into the mix.

Some of the same rules that my mother used with me (I can still hear her voice telling me to make a hand-over-hand right-angle turn) when I was learning to drive apply to the world of marketing/social media/digital public relations today:

1. Adjust your mirrors. Before I did anything in the car, my mother always told me to adjust my mirrors. She told me to make sure I could see on both sides and behind me. Marketers should do the same thing: Adjust your “mirrors” so that you can see how all of your communications tactics are working, with the intention of having them feed into your existing, cohesive plan.

2. 10 and 2. The steering wheel was a clock, and Mom always told me to keep my hands firmly on the 10 and 2 positions. There’s no steering wheel in a Web 2.5 world; as such, you’ll need all of the hands you can get to help you quickly correct situations that arise. Along those lines, be sure to only drive in the right frame of mind -- meaning, you’re bound to make mistakes with emerging media tactics. If you do, “pull over,” closely examine and damage, take a deep breath, and get back on the road again.

3. Pay attention to the speed limit. Mom was a stickler for this one, as she should have been. It was all about being cautious and making sure I could respond appropriately. Think you want to plow through a social media strategy? Take your time, listen first, see what’s out there, identify the right platform for you, and then act appropriately. You’re allowed to make mistakes, but keep them to a minimum.

4. Keep your eyes on the road. Last but not least, it was about keeping your eye on the road and staying focused on what was in front of me. For marketers, this should be your Golden Rule. Stay focused on your objectives, goals, and perhaps most importantly, your consumers/customers/constituents. Concentrating on the road in front of you will allow you to respond accordingly and reach your destination -- in one piece.

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Nancy Bistritz is the Director of Marketing/Communications for Montreal-based interactive agency Nurun, She works closely with teams in Nurun’s U.S. offices on public relations outreach, and marketing and business development strategies. She is also an integral part of Nurun’s worldwide communications team.

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